Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Human-Like Memory Capabilities

June 18, 2008

Human-Like Memory Capabilities by Scott Fahlman, June 17, 2008

My interpretation of what he is saying is that he is looking to build an artificial memory system that can

  1. build-up new complex concepts/facts from incoming knowledge/information
  2. cross-check any given input against known facts
  3. “route” to the relevant fact(s) in response to any new situation — (i’ve always wondered if there is a connection to routing on a graph).

All this happening automatically and rapidly in real-time by taking advantage of massive parallelism built up from millisecond circuits, just like the human brain does, not needing the GHz circuits of today’s microprocessors.

A friend of mine asked me, but isn’t this what exactly what Google is?

Maybe Google includes a subset of this list. It indexes incoming knowledge (facts) and makes them searchable in response to a human-defined query. Still i see some differences which I outline below… See a related blog post “So What’s the Google End-Game?“about Google and artificial intelligence that quotes the Atlantic Monthly article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?

First, the ability to specify the query in real-time, in real-life situations. Google or machines can’t do that, only humans can at this point. Second is low search efficiency relative to human memory. Although Google may be the most comprehensive and best search engine in the world today, it still requires a lot of human interpretation to use it and refine queries through multiple searches based on initial search results returned — as an example, I’m picturing all the effort needed to do searches for scientific papers and content. Since we end up having to do many many searches the “search” efficiency is not very high compared to human thought which appears to be near-instantaneous among our store of facts — that too it uses millisecond circuitry compared to GHz microprocessing.

Google search may be a machine, but at the heart of it all are associations and judgments originally created by humans in at least two ways. PageRank uses number and prominence of hyperlinks that point to pages as its metric (collaborative filtering) — the more the better. See “On the Origins of Google”

… the act of linking one page to another required conscious effort, which in turn was evidence of human judgment about the link’s destination.

Another area is Bayesian association of “related” keywords (ex. “nuclear” is related to “radioactive”) based on mining human-generated content. See “Using large data sets”. These associations are input by humans on the web, and merely computed/indexed by Google. Like Google, to some degree it’s possible that people communicate with each other to learn and form their own relevance/judgement. I don’t think that explains 100% of how human memory works.

There must be something else based on a human personal experience with the world — like the way babies learn by putting everything in their mouth — that can bootstrap human memory to turn it into what it ends up becoming. Is it logic, association, or something else? I think that what’s missing in today’s machines memories — Google included.

This sums it up… See page 149, “Advanced Perl Programming,” by Simon Cozens

“Sean Burke, author of Perl and LWP and a professional linguist, once described artificial intelligence as the study of programming situations where you either don’t know what you want to don’t know how to get it.”


Spaceship One, Spaceship Two

January 24, 2008

According to news this week, for $200K you will be able to fly up into space in a few years, “Entrepreneur Unveils New Tourist Spacecraft”

On October 8, 2006 in San Carlos, CA at the Hillier Aviation Museum, I had the good fortune of listening to Burt Rutan speak about breakthrough innovation, aviation, spaceflight, and aviation safety—totally inspiring. Some of it is very big picture, but here are a few of the highlights,

  • Technical progress and the ability to take big risks has been what sets humans apart from animals
  • Children make the decision to be innovators during the age of 3-14, usually due to some events that occur during that period.
    • Most of the aviation pioneers that people recall (Von Braun, etc.) were growing up during the time when the airplane was invented early 1900. Most aviation since then has used the same basic principles they discovered
  • Next major wave of innovation occurred WWII and after when he was growing up.
  • Third wave was when Sputnik made Americans feel they lost to the Russians, which kick started the space race of 1960s.
  • Since then, we have been using essentially the same space technology for last 30 years.
  • His SpaceShip One is now housed in the Smithsonian right next to the other major plans of the last century
  • Commercial & military airplanes have stagnated in their altitude and speed because the technologies have not been pushed by the organizations that develop them. Space Ship One pushes the envelope by orders of magnitude, representing the next wave of innovation in aviation and space travel. Space Ship Two will be for commercial travel—Virgin airlines may be accepting orders for the first flights.
  • Safety and stability have been the barriers to entry in commercial space flight—that’s what he’s out to change. One of his first jobs out of college was to understand why the F4 had so many failed flights and engineer a stability control system.

Below is a photo of him telling me what he thinks about the Columbia accident report: “if you read it carefully, what they are saying is not to take risks. NASA as an organization will never take risks.” Also asked him what he thinks is the difference between his small 130 person company and NASA is. He replied that he never puts his engineers and factory personnel in the position of defending safety, i.e. never to be in a defensive position, or allow an aviation regulator do that to them.

  • I read this to mean this places full responsibility in the people doing the work to ensure safety.
  • Safety has to be so obvious to the people doing the work that there is never a need to be defensive—they understand exactly why their aircraft is safe.
  • My interpretation is that this nurtures a culture which outperforms regulated safety—he claims he has built some 40 research aircraft with an excellent safety record he claims

Also see, Larry Page on how to change the world: Breakthrough ideas are around the corner, says the Google co-founder.  But most of us are failing to take a chance on them.”

Trust, nation-building, and development

January 22, 2008

The article “How Technology Almost Lost the War: In Iraq, the Critical Networks Are Social – Not Electronic” is very longwinded but informative in the end. The wars of Iraq and Afghanistan illustrate that using network-centric warfare, the US military has demonstrated its mastery/superiority of identifying and destroying targets anywhere on earth and invading nations using conventional means with both small numbers of troops and minimal troop losses compared to earlier wars. As the battlefield shifts from invasion to nation building, it looks like the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan are forcing the military to learn a completely modern version of fighting Internet-enabled insurgencies amidst civilian populations (COIN/HTT) – a capability it lacked going into Iraq, and one of the reasons GHW Bush apparently stopped short of removing Saddam in 1991. The next war of preemption whenever it happens may turn out a lot different if the Pentagon plans ahead.

Blaming the protracted war in Iraq to insufficient troop numbers or technology is a bit simplistic. A recent documentary “No End In Sight” was filmed pre-surge and so it did not incorporate the progress/changes as a result of Patreus’ new strategy. However it points out that post-invasion planning for Europe during WWII began two years before the invasion, and in case of Iraq the DoD planning apparatus for post-invasion was almost nonexistent even though DoD was placed in charge – excluding the State Department. This wired article doesn’t quite address the strategic planning failures at the pentagon pre-invasion that might have contributed to some of the Iraqi security problems we see today. The piece “Who Lost Iraq?” in Foreign Affairs tries to expose that more clearly.

In failures of postwar planning, the root issue is local institutions and (absence of) social capital needed to build them. There is a book (2006) called “Nation Building beyond Iraq and Afghanistan”. I read the introductory chapter by Fukuyama “Nation Building and the Failure of Institutional Memory” (pages 1-18) which explains how politics between the defense/state departments got in the way of post-war planning, and it tends to corroborate the picture painted by interviews in the documentary “No End In Sight.”

“the frequency and intensity of US and international nation-building have increased since the end of the Cold War…there has been roughly one new nation building intervention every two years since the end of the Cold War… What is remarkable is how little institutional learning there has been over time; the same lessons about pitfalls and limitations of nation-building seemingly have to be relearned with each new involvement. This became painfully evident after the American occupation and reconstruction of Iraq after April 2003.”

“Nation-building encompasses two different types of activities, reconstruction and development. Although the distinction between the two is often blurred, it was always present to nation-builders and earlier generations dealing with post-conflict situations. The official title of the World Bank is, after all, the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development, and most of its activities fell under the first heading. Reconstruction refers to the restoration of war-torn or damaged societies to their preconflict situation. Development, however, refers to the creation of new institutions and the promotion of sustained economic growth, events that transform the society open-endedly into something that it has not been previously… Development, however, is much more problematic, both conceptually and as a matter of pragmatic policy. The development phase by contrast requires the eventual weaning of local actors and institutions from dependence on outside aid… it is seldom the case that local institutions are actually strong enough to do all the things they are intended to do.”

After reading Fukuyama’s book “Trust” (1996) where he explains the role of social capital in the world’s economies (in addition to intellectual capital, financial capital, or natural resources), the lack of social capital in these nation-building efforts explains why completely new local institutions in Iraq and Afghanistan take decades to gel and become productive.

Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime

November 26, 2007

A most inspiring vision I came across this weekend… “I want [the GT-R] to make supercar performance in all conditions” says Mizuno. In his estimation, the current crop of supercars are designed to perform only in optimal conditions (in the dry, at the track) with an experienced driver behind the wheel. His GT-R concept is the exact opposite: “anyone, anywhere, anytime.”

First Look: 2008 Nissan GT-R

Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime: Nissan targets Porsche, but ends up building a world beater

found these while I was stuck at O’Hare airport last night… new M3 rocks, the GT-R may beat the 911 Turbo at 2/3 the price, and the Mazda 3 may be almost as good as the new M3 at half the price – the Mazda may even match older M3 performance in many respects. 

Comparison: 2007 Audi RS4 vs 2008 BMW M3 vs 2008 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Subaru WRX v Dodge Caliber SRT4 v Mazdaspeed 3 v Volvo C30 – Comparison Tests    

Watson in SF

September 30, 2007

last wed i got to see James Watson at the city arts/lecture series… his first choice for grad school was Caltech but he ended up going to his backup school (U-Indiana at bloomington). he said getting to work with linux pauling was the main attraction at Caltech but that Bloomington had three really good geneticists which probably made it a better experience.

he wrote a new book “avoid boring people” and then he was asked to explain the title. it came about because he had a boring title (like “science”) and his colleagues came back with this new title after thinking about it for a few hours. “boring” can be an adjective or a verb, and he means it as the verb form so it could also be called avoid boring *other* people J when he was in college he read the book “what is life?” based on lectures by physicist Schrödinger that guided him going forward.

his three lessons for a life in science are

  1. don’t be the smartest person in the room – he always sought to be in environments where others knew more than him. at the age of 22 he went to Cambridge to learn crystallography with sir Lawrence bragg at cambridge, and he was thrilled when they let him in.
  2. don’t go it alone when you’re on the hairy edge of science. crick was an expert at interpreting and reconstructing structure from x-ray crystallography images.
  3. talk to your competitors and even people who seem unreasonable because they may have data that would be useful to you – this is what gave watson an edge over pauling who incorrectly proposed the single strand RNA for the structure of the DNA. because pauling was less interested in science than politics at that point he didn’t talk to the people who could have provided data who were on the same cruise ship with him and could have steered him in the right direction. he also suggested that Rosalind franklin was autistic, she thought her nobel prize winning advisor was useless, and didn’t understand the significance of her x-ray crystallography data when she gave it to others because she didn’t think they were worth talking to. controversial.

at his age of 79, he still plays tennis and his hero is roger federrer.

update on October 18. It looks like Watson may have made some unfortunate and offensive comments, Nobel Winner in ‘racist’ claim row

at least he was maintaining an appearance of skepticism about race and intelligence in this recent essay in 02138 magazine when discussing larry summers. he’s apparently back-tracking now on his comments about Africa, intelligence, and testing — he may have realized his very serious mistake.

** Lab suspends DNA pioneer Watson **

Nobel Prize-winner James Watson is suspended by his research institution after making comments on the subject of race and intelligence.


James Watson Retires After Racial Remarks


Published: October 25, 2007

Dr. Watson, who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for describing the double-helix structure of DNA, and later headed the American government’s part in the international Human Genome Project, was quoted in The Times of London last week as suggesting that, overall, people of African descent are not as intelligent as people of European descent. In the ensuing uproar, he issued a statement apologizing “unreservedly” for the comments, adding “there is no scientific basis for such a belief.”


Pief Panofsky: a great, great guy

September 30, 2007

I feel pretty fortunate to have known Pief — a larger-than-life Stanford physicist — whom I came across through my studies in nuclear detection. Just last week I was actively debating muon detection techniques with with him and others before I found out he passed away suddenly on Monday. To me, he will remain one of the best examples of someone who puts objectivity, physics, and principles first — politics second. In spite of or even because this he accomplished so darn much in his lifetime.

The lectures at Pief Panofsky’s memorial last Friday by the former directors of SLAC, the former Stanford President, and Sid Drell were inspiring, humorous, and impressive — well summarized by this article in the San Jose Mercury News. He has a forthcoming book called that he wanted to live to see published called Panofsky on Physics, Politics, and Peace: Pief Remembers. Also see this piece in the Washington Post which mentiones his nonproliferation contributions.

A few things the article did not mention. Sid Drell described Panofsky commitment to principle and the substance of his lecture is essentially contained in this article from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Panofsky had made the proposal for SLAC to the federal government for $160+ million in 1960s dollars. When it came time to approval, the government was insisting on a clause whereby the the DoD would be given rights to perform any experiment as they deem necessary since it was federally funded–many other universities agreed to such clauses. With the support of Stanford and risking the entire project proposal that he had worked on for over four years, Panofsky pushed back and said that he would agree to these experiments provided there was mutual understanding about the experiment between Stanford and the government.

Panofsky also had created a unique system of “bottoms up” innovation at SLAC described by one of the Nobel prize winners who spoke there. Without approval required, people at the lab could get $10-20K to perform experiments. Then if those went well, the next level of managers could get ~$100K for more elaborate experiments also without approval of the lab directors. Larger experiments would require funding from funding agencies of course, but this system allowed a flexibility of experimentation — which is being threatened by recent funding crunches from federal grant agencies who want to know how money is being used for each experiment.

Words that Work

September 30, 2007

there is a new book out called, “Words That Work: It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear” which is all about how communication matters – independent of the content. this half-hour NPR interview of the author is pretty good… in the interview he compares how people typically respond to different words used to expressing the same concept:

  • “estate tax” as being OK (taxing the rich) versus “death tax” (repulsive).

  • “drilling for oil” (exploitative) versus “energy exploration” (cleaner).

  • “global warming” (divisive, emotional, intense, polarizing) versus “climate change” (thoughtful, reasonable, less hysteria).

  • “gaming” versus “gambling” to describe Vegas.

  • he says bush would have been more effective if he said “reexamination” or “reassessment” (flexibility, listening) instead of “surge” which is a simple focus on troop movement.

  • “electronic intercepts” works a lot better than “wiretapping.”

to get out of the politics he says we need to find ways to listen to people who we do not necessarily agree with – conservatives reading new york times and liberals watching fox news. this book is his way of how to do that…